Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals look to pick up the pace on offense

By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 8, 2011; 12:04 AM

Alex Ovechkin held court earlier this week discussing the Washington Capitals' stronger defensive play and was asked if the team could simply turn on their largely dormant offensive game again. The two-time Hart Trophy winner's expression grew slightly more serious and he responded with a nod and simple, "Yeah."

Throughout the first 41 games of this season, however, the Capitals haven't been able to drum up goals at will and Ovechkin, their most potent scoring threat, is on pace for a career-worst season offensively.

So as Washington heads into the second half of the 2010-11 campaign, Coach Bruce Boudreau is searching for ways to spark Ovechkin and help the team rediscover its goal-scoring consistency. The latest attempt comes in the form of new line combinations that likely will appear on Saturday, when the Capitals host the Florida Panthers.

Ovechkin is not alone among Capitals' top-six forwards struggling to score - Nicklas Backstrom hasn't recorded a goal in 15 games, Alexander Semin has no goals in 13, Brooks Laich has one goal in 15. But because Ovechkin is Washington's ultimate leader and on-ice barometer, igniting his offense could help turn around the rest of the group.

"We've got a pretty good record, but in the end your best players have got to be your best players," Boudreau said. "We'd like to get [all the primary scorers] back on track, so you try different things to get them on track. Like a parent scolding their child. Sometimes you pat them on the back and say everything's all right, sometimes you kick them in the butt. Sometimes you take away ice time, you give ice time, you give responsibility, you take away responsibility until you find out whatever works."

Ovechkin remains the Capitals' leading point scorer and was 11th among all NHL players with 42 entering Friday night's games. But in 41 games he has only 14 goals, two of which were empty-net tallies, and just a pair of power-play goals despite playing more than 211 minutes with the man-advantage this season.

The scoring drought can be partially attributed to opponents' growing tenacity smothering Ovechkin as he attempts to enter the offensive zone. It's also unclear how much an injury to Ovechkin's left arm, which required a cortisone shot following Washington's 1-0 overtime loss to Tampa Bay on Tuesday, might be hindering the powerful forward's play.

After being prohibited from handling the puck for two days following the injection, Ovechkin participated fully in practice on Friday morning, with Boudreau's freshest line adjustment in place.

Rather than his usual spot on the left side, Ovechkin skated on the right wing as part of a line with Laich and rookie center Marcus Johansson. It's an experiment Boudreau tried for two games in late November, a 3-2 win over Carolina and 6-0 victory against Tampa Bay. In those two contests, Ovechkin posted five assists, while Backstrom added four points, Laich two and Semin three.

Asked about the switch, Ovechkin downplayed any significance to it, while emphasizing the need to try different offensive formulas in the regular season.

In the past five contests, the Capitals have found their footing after snapping an eight-game losing streak. Ovechkin has two goals in the past four games - a detail that marks forward progress as Washington's captain tries to regain his scoring touch.

© 2011 The Washington Post Company